Alain Passard’s Garden


[Alain Passard’s Garden]

The photo set that illustrates this post may be viewed as a slideshow.

I have never dined at Alain Passard’s restaurant. The closest I ever got to it was my lunch at La Végétable, but that doesn’t really count — the proximity of the escalators and the neon lighting cancel out the stars.

It’s not that I don’t want to go, I do, but L’Arpège is one of those restaurants I’ve read so much about — Passard’s love of vegetables, his running a biodynamic garden to provide for the restaurant’s produce needs — that I fear I may be disappointed when I actually go*. So up until now, I have contented myself with the hope and possibility that, some day, I shall make it there.

But when a friend of mine hinted that she might be able to arrange a visit to said vegetable garden, it was all I could do not to pester her with daily emails and twice daily text messages, reminding her that I was absolutely, positively, and superlatively interested, and when when when could we go?

The visit was scheduled for a weekday in mid-June — yes, I’ve been sitting on that story for a little while. Passard’s property is located in the Sarthe area, some 200 kilometers to the south-west of Paris, so my friend, her son, and I met with Julie Coppé — Alain Passard’s right-hand woman — at the Montparnasse train station, from which my dear TGV propelled us to Le Mans in under an hour; a taxi ride took care of the remaining kilometers.

Few things provide as concentrated a dose of happiness as a daytrip to the countryside. This is when the contrast between clamor and quiet, between exhaust fumes and morning mist, is the clearest. When every detail feels like a gift (a swing set! a donkey! fresh mud!), and when you know you had better fill your lungs and eyes and ears now, while you can, because it will all have vanished come nightfall (and don’t lose that slipper again please).

Once at the castle, we were joined by Cynthia Sandberg, who runs a similarly inspired produce farm for David Kinch’s restaurant in California, and who was travelling through France in a motor home (camping-car in French) with her son — sounds almost too film-worthy to be true, I know.

Our little group thus formed, we proceeded to tour the grounds, zig-zagging from patch to patch, crouching to get a closer look at this root or that bug, peeking through the leaves to spot the strawberries, rubbing herbs with our thumbs to release their scent, and asking a gazillion and a half questions.

In the meantime, the gardeners were hard at work, tending to the plants and harvesting what would be delivered to the restaurant later that day, to appear on diners’ plates in the evening — peas, pois gourmands, fava beans, radishes, multicolored turnips, potatoes, kohlrabi, a few early tomatoes, zucchini blossoms, various herbs, rhubarb, berries and currants…

Much to my delight, part of the crop was set aside for lunch — a vegetable spread fit for a king, cooked by Julie and served at the long communal table in the castle’s dining room.

We spent a few more afternoon hours hanging out in the garden, enjoying the faint sunlight, chasing the chickens, and discussing the makings of a good compost pile. Soon, it was time to head back, but I came home on a cloud of fresh air, with a bunch of photographs and a box of canelés, bought at Gare Montparnasse.


* A year ago, almost to the day, I wrote about one of those high-expectations dinners; that one was at El Bulli. It did not disappoint.

  • My God, those groseilles look amazing! Maybe I will have to plan a trip to L’Arpege some day.

  • Céline75

    Quelle chance d’avoir pu faire cette visite ! Le cadre est très beau et discuter avec les jardiniers devait être passionnant.
    Peut-être cela valait-il même plus le coup (voire coût :o)) que d’aller manger dans son restaurant… ? Les avis que l’on peut lire à droite à gauche sur Internet paraissent partagés… et personnellement je ne paierais pas 400 Euros tout en ayant peur d’être finalement déçue !
    Mais peut-être est-ce que je loupe quelque chose d’unique à cause de mes scrupules…

    PS : je t’ai vue hier soir à la télé dans Zone Interdite (quelques secondes, sous un parapluie) dans le cadre du Fooding et de la dégustation proposée par Jean-François Piège… Amusant de t’y reconnaître, comme un clin d’oeil !

  • Deb

    My husband is a cook and our first trip to Paris was a long weekend just over 10 years ago. I had not heard of L’Arpège but of course he had. So, one night, I found myself in the lobby of L’Arpège, asking in my halting French if there might be a table for us. Non, madame. Can you imagine? I think it is better that I didn’t know where I was! I would have done much better with the donkey and chickens.

  • Ah, I know that ride from Montparnasse to Le Mans very well. My Dad was born (on the farm where my tonton Roger now lives) not a 1/2 hour car ride from Le Mans, in Vire en Champagne. Those pictures are lovely!

  • I’m so envious of that garden! I’ve been documenting the growth of my little kitchen garden, but I need some outdoor space to expand. Until then, I will have to content myself with farmers markets and farm visits like yours.

    There are a couple of similar restaurants that I’ve always wanted to visit – Raymond Blanc’s Manoir aux Quat’Saisons near Oxford and Michael Stadtlander’s Eiginsinn Farm outside of Toronto.

  • est

    super idée, je rêve d’un potager!

  • What an evocative slide show on flickr . . . I almost felt I was there!

  • Ann

    The slide show was breathtaking. If ou ever need a second career you should be set.

  • Ericka

    How wonderful! My food marketing class had the great fortune of being invited (in the English & French senses of the term, thank goodness!) to L’Arpège by the warm and engaging Mr. Passard when he came to speak to us about his passion. I had high expectations that were far exceeded by his delightful and surprising dishes. If your pocketbook can bear it, it’s a must for anyone – like you, Clotilde! – who loves to experiment with flavors and unique combinations. As for the farm, we’ve been invited but have yet to find a date that works for all 16 of us. After these photos, I certainly hope we find one soon!

  • Sounds like quite the experience. I hope I make it further than the airport in Paris one day.

  • rainey

    Reminds me of when I lived in France and saw all the locals I knew from the village riding their bicycles out to their gardens out on the fringes.

    Trying to raise a few things for our kitchen (and barely, at best, managing a couple things a week) leaves me in awe of providing enough to operate a restaurant. Chapeau, M. Passard!

  • gingerpale

    Oh, those pictures will be studied over and over–thank you!

    It occurred to me that maybe this is the very first time an animal has been in the blog pictures? (Not counting dinner, of course!)

  • That’s my kind of summers day out. Thank you for sharing. The only thing missing was Jean de Florette.

  • B

    Who doesnt love a day in the country! I love visiting other peoples gardens. They make me green with jealousy


  • I need a food excursion out of the city. Sounds amazing.

  • I was fortunate enough to have a long and marvelous lunch at l’Arpege in June. It was fantastic and the service was as wonderful as the food.
    What a treat to see pictures of the garden.

  • There’s nothing like a taste of food directly from the garden. I have a very small garden and eating a tomato fresh from the plant is one of life’s delights. And I don’t think anything refreshes the soul like a visit to the country when you live in a city.

  • Salli

    Arpege will not be a disappointment. However, bring lots of euros! It’s very very expensive. El Bulli is a bargain in comparison. The garden photos were a treat. Thanks for showing us this special place.

  • It’s good to have friends with delicious connections

  • Gorgeous! And that “Lunch Table” photo is so much more than a picture of a table set with plates. It tells a story of a fabulous comfortable meal yet to come. Loved it. Thanks.

  • An idylic setting…
    Lovely to see the vegetables on the vine and imagine them on the plate and then the taste – the freshness!
    A unique experience.

  • does he grow poached eggs in maple syrup on his farm? because that was the best part about le végétable when I went! (and I hear they’re the thing to get at arpège as well)

  • You lucky dog — what a fantastic experience! I had lunch at L’Arpege once and it was phenomenal.

  • just to say that an italian magazine “L’espresso” of this week speaks about you :-)

  • joyofcooking

    Lucky you. I have been also lucky enough to go to the potager a couple times (food photographer perks). It is splendid, the vegetables, the mud, the horse like animal that scared me to death. Anyways, lovely photos, and do go the the restaurant. It is worth every pretty penny.

  • A day trip to the countryside!! total bliss, I have to say…that’s how i ended one of my recent posts about a county fair!

  • absolutely gorgeous photos…. j’avais vraiment l’impression que j’etais encore en la belle france :*)

  • Zach

    Ah, this brings me back to when I was there. It was wonderful meeting you and everyone; I hope we do meet agian.

  • Y

    That’s my grandmother’s chateau/gardens. It’s cracking me up to see it online.

  • Indeed, that should have been lovely to be right at the heart of Passard’s vegetable actuality. Question: do they serve food on on the premises, for example do they have a little halte gourmande where they serve their fresh vegetables there? Thanks

    • Unfortunately, no: it’s a working farm with no restaurant of any kind attached to it. For a taste of their vegetables you have to eat at l’Arpège ! :)

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